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How To: Lat Pulldown

3 Golden Rules

Posted by Scott_Herman - January 26th, 2018

Today we’re going to talk about the 3 golden rules for how to perform a lat pulldown properly. A lat pulldown is a great exercise that’s going to target almost the entire back, mainly focusing on width. However, you will also be involving other muscles in your back like your traps, rhomboids and rear delts, as well as the biceps to a degree. Keep in mind this article will only cover the OVERHAND grip version of the movement, and we will cover the UNDERHAND grip version in another article.

Golden Rule #1: Proper Elbow Positioning

You want to make sure that you’re pulling the weight down properly, so that you’re not only maximizing your pulling strength, but you’re also placing your shoulders in a position where they’re not compromised so that you don’t have to worry about shoulder impingement issues. What happens with most people with this movement, is they grab the weight and sit down, and while you are supposed to keep your chest up during the movement, what tends to happen is the weight comes down and the elbows go back. That’s not what you want to do, and you’re actually not going to feel that much mat engagement doing it this way.

The correct way to perform this movement is keeping your elbows slightly in front of you and then in-line with your hips as you pull down. This is going to give you MORE pulling power, so more strength to pull more weight, and it’s also going to place your shoulders in a position to where they’re not compromised and you won’t have to worry about shoulder impingement.

Golden Rule #2: Never Pull The Weight Behind Your Neck

You always want to pull the weight down in front of your body, and not behind your neck. Pulling the weight down behind your neck is unnecessary, as it can be dangerous for your shoulder joint, as well as your cervical spine. Proper form should have you pulling down in front of you until the bar touches your chest. Improper form will see you pulling the bar down behind your head.

What’s going to end up happening is you won’t be able to lift as much weight to overload your lats as much as possible. Remember how we just talked about how you want to keep your elbows in-line with your hips to really feel that stretching and tearing in your lats? Well, if you’re pulling the bar down behind your head, your elbows will be pulling backwards, which is not optimal for back growth. So skip behind the neck pulldowns, and just do them the regular way!

Golden Rule #3: Do Not Pull The Weight With Your Biceps

You want to pull the weight using as little of your biceps as possible, while trying to keep as much of the focus as possible on your lats. If you’re a beginner, this is a concept that might seem kind of weird to you, because you don’t quite have that mind-muscle connection (MMC) developed yet. However, there are some tricks that you can apply to the movement to develop that MMC, and for those of you who have already established a MMC, this will help you make it even stronger.

The next time you do a lat pulldown, instead of gripping the bar with your thumb wrapped underneath, I want you to put it on top. It might not seem like a big deal, but what happens mentally is that once you let go with your thumb and place it on top of the bar, you start to kind of visualize your hands more as just hooks that are in place to help you pull the weight down, as opposed to gripping and pulling as hard as you can with your hands. Once you have hooked the bar, you’ll sit down in place, and then visualize pulling the weight down with your elbows. If you’re able to do that, you’ll quickly see a difference in how your back is engaged. If you don’t believe me, do a regular set squeezing the bar as hard as you can with your thumb UNDER the bar, and you’ll feel it more in your biceps. Then put those thumbs on top, focus on pulling with your elbows, and you’ll feel it more in your back.


When you start lifting REALLY heavy weight to the point to where the weight stack weighs more than you, here’s something you can do to help you get into place without having to look like a crazy person jumping around trying to pull the weight down. You want to set up the pad so that it’s low enough that it holds you in place when you’re down, but that it’s high enough so you can grab the bar, then sag your body and get your knees right under the pad. Try to get your toes under your knees, so that once you’re in place, you can push off your toes to create a lot of force in your legs to hold your body down. You can then utilize that pressure to push yourself into position without having to pull the weight down just yet. It’s a really simple trick, but it comes in super handy! Just sag your body as much as possible, push your knees underneath, and then you can basically slide in and start your set.


There you have it, 3 golden rules that you need to follow if you want to maximize your back muscle growth with the lat pulldown, and build yourself a serious pair of wings!

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